Community partnerships and the benefits of learning through play

This month we hear from Nominated Supervisors, Ona Buckley and Daniel Betts, Preschool Supervisor, Michelle Williams and Early Childhood Teacher, Whitney Williams from Guliyali Preschool.

Recently awarded the Excellent rating by ACECQA, the NSW Central Coast based service shares learnings from their longstanding partnership with residents of a local retirement village, part of their Ageless Play Program.

Partnerships are embedded in every aspect of our practice at Guliyali Preschool. Engaging meaningfully with our community promotes understanding and provides a genuine opportunity for relationship-building and collaboration. We have developed strong partnerships with many different organisations, colleagues and community members to enhance educational programs for our children and our service as a whole. These reciprocal relationships provide an opportunity to learn from each other, share ideas and plan for continuous improvement.

At Guliyali Preschool, our community engagement programs are meaningful, authentic and mutually beneficial. Our longest running community partnership project has been with the Living Choice Deepwater Court retirement village residents who engage in our Ageless Play Program that has been running consistently for six years. 

Our relationship with the Deep Water Court retirement village sprouted from a conversation with a new family over 10 years ago. The family had recently moved into our local area away from their support network. The mother mentioned to an educator that her child was finding the move challenging as he missed the interactions with his elderly neighbours and grandparents. To support this family the educator made contact with the local retirement village and organised a visit. To begin with, the visits were only once a term, however as the relationships grew the partnership organically grew into monthly and now weekly visits. Each year we reflect on the partnership and the feedback from our families and children overwhelmingly supports us continuing these beautiful weekly connections. 

Mutual benefits

‘We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.’

George Bernard Shaw

Our Ageless Play community members, many of them retired school teachers, have unique strengths that we draw on to create programs that are inspiring and rewarding for everyone involved. The project has mutual benefits for the children in our service, the residents in the village and for our wider community. Through this program children learn the importance of providing friendship and companionship to others, regardless of whether they are significantly older or younger than themselves. The program enables our children to develop positive attitudes towards the elderly and to feel comfortable around those with disabilities and impairments. The retirement village coordinator reports that these visits help the residents break up their everyday routine, reduce feelings of isolation associated with ageing, and allows participants to rekindle relationships with the broader community. 

Reciprocal relationships

Our programs evolve to meet the needs of all stakeholders. Our Ageless Play program seeks to bring together various generations through a range of play opportunities, supporting communities and nurturing relationships. All key stakeholders are empowered throughout the delivery of the program as their voices are respected and heard. Children and residents of the village contribute to decision making within the group by making decisions on what activities to participate in. Educators benefit from the residents’ expertise and residents gain an increase in self-esteem and emotional and social wellbeing, reconnecting them with their community. Our Ageless Play partnership evolved and endured despite the visitation and communication challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. The program was strengthened during the pandemic, and we were able to break down the restriction barriers by using technology to send video messages as well as traditional communication methods such as letter writing to maintain our relationships with the residents. 

Here are some strategies that we think could help services who are thinking about how to build their community engagement and partnerships:

1. Build local knowledge

Become familiar with your local community and the available resources and organisations with whom you can share experiences with. Take the time to visit places in the community that are easily accessible or invite members from local community groups into your service to share their knowledge and skills. Engage in authentic and respectful community celebrations that will build children’s understanding of their community and their respect for diversity.

2. Get involved!

Be a part of everything – become informed of community agencies in your area and reach out to local organisations that may also be looking to build a community partnership. Seeking the support and advice of community agencies such as libraries, Senior Citizen Associations, Rotary Clubs and Lions Clubs may assist in providing links that can be nurtured and developed into long lasting relationships. 

3. Think broadly

Consult with stakeholders. Many families, educators, teachers and/or staff have links to community groups that would be happy to form community connections with children’s education and care services. There are a myriad of ways and opportunities for children to feel a sense of belonging in, contributing to, and influencing their world.

4. Critically reflect

Spend time reflecting on your sense of community and think about how it has been informed. Reflecting on what community means to you and the service can enrich decision making, increase awareness of influences and bias and provide goals for continuous community improvement projects. 

What has helped guide and support your community partnerships?

Living our values

Our service philosophy and vision remind us daily of our role in the community, it inspires us and provides direction and purpose. Visual representations of our philosophy around our preschool outline the purpose and principles under which we operate. It’s a tool to assist with the navigation towards our continuous improvement. 

Communicate widely and effectively

Effective means of communication aids in shared decision making for children. As educators, we must be givers of information but also receivers. Communication is integral in building relationships and engaging with others to create connected communities. We recognise that this comes in many forms: verbal, non-verbal, online, newsletters, informal and formal meetings and social media platforms. We are mindful of first languages and take a ‘not a one size fits all approach’ when communicating with our community. 

Recognise the experts within

Learn about your colleagues’ hidden areas of expertise, your families’ special skills and community resources that might benefit your program. Reach out to other children’s education and care services in your community. Acknowledging and recognising these ‘hidden experts’ identifies opportunities to initiate and establish community connections and collaborations. 

Interested in finding out more?

The Ageless Play Program is just one of many community-based partnerships and exceptional practices recognised in the awarding of the Excellent rating to Guliyali Preschool. Read more about their practices on the ACECQA Excellent Rating page.

Read more about Guliyali Preschool, which is situated within the grounds of Woy Woy Public School. Guliyali Preschool invites interested children’s education and care services to connect and share practice.

Looking to get involved with Ageless Play? Learn more about intergenerational programs here.

More information on the importance of your service vision and philosophy can be found in the following ACECQA blog post – Does your service vision lead the way?


Podcasts as a gateway for new understandings

Educator and children listening to podcast on table

This month we hear from Laura Stone and Linda Harrison from ABC Kids Early Education about using podcasts to build and support children’s learning and understanding. ABC Kids Early Education is a source for ABC Kids and ABC Kids Listen digital content aligned to six key areas: creativity and expression, family, community and culture, language and literacy, STEM and sustainability and nature.

When considering the diverse learning styles of young children, listening to podcasts can offer a fascinating new dimension to educator and teacher planning and practice. Children’s developing capacity to focus attention on each of their senses is a technique used in early childhood mindfulness practice.  There is now an array of quality podcasts available for young children that encourage ‘purposeful listening’, helping young minds and bodies to learn to listen with intent – thereby resulting in a natural calmness. Most quality children’s podcasts are great co-listening experiences and can be just as soothing and engaging for adult co-listeners as they are for children.

ABC kids noisy by nature logo bird calling

Listening to podcasts can help children develop important skills for ‘efferent’ listening – listening for factual information or ideas. For example, in ABC Kids Listen’s Noisy by Nature, children can hear many of the interesting sounds made by Australian animals and insects, while learning fun facts to help develop their understandings and respect for biodiversity in different natural environments along the way.  Just as reading a great storybook or having an in depth ‘picture talk’ will tease out additional understandings from children’s real-life experiences, so to can beautiful podcasts.

In Noisy by Nature, presenter Dr Ann Jones talks to children as if they are old friends – she asks questions, waits for a response, atmosphere builds in a layered soundscape of wind, waves and distant bird calls. We hear something loud or melodic or just plain silly ring out above the rest!  What is that wonderfully weird sound of nature? Noisy by Nature is a transportive experience for little listeners.

Educator and children drawing plants outside

An amazing podcast can make the hair on the back of your neck stand up. A child’s gaze when listening to a cleverly crafted podcast is quite a special thing to behold. Just like hearing a story from a loved grown-up, you can see the imagining behind their eyes. As adults, we could liken this experience to the emotional journey we go on when reading a real page turner! No pictures, just an evocative narrative to take you to some place new in your mind. You can see yourself there with the characters, with the landscape, in the moment. Great podcasts are exciting!

What is joint media engagement?

According to the ECA Statement on young children and digital technologies, joint media engagement involves children, peers and/ or adults participating in digital activities together such as co-playing games and apps, co-viewing programs or co-listening to digital content together.

Listening to well-chosen appropriate audio content together provides children with the opportunity to ask questions and put forward ideas, which helps build language development through collaborative learning. These shared digital play experiences can also help educators scaffold children’s development of important dispositions for learning such as curiosity, interest, enthusiasm and imagination (Belonging, Being and Becoming: The Early Years Learning Framework for Australia (EYLF), Learning Outcome 4.1).

Using the ABC Kids Noisy by Nature podcasts as provocations for learning

Educator and children sitting at table making nest out of leaves

After listening to Your babbling birds, children explore bird habitats and create a nest for a Kookaburra using natural & upcycled materials.

Noisy by Nature episodes can be used as provocations to help educators and teachers intentionally engage children in learning. Sparking wonder in Australian animals or animal groups (marsupials, nocturnal animals, insects, amphibians, mammals), these audio resources can be used at any stage of an ongoing inquiry-based investigation. The podcasts allow children to be absorbed and fascinated by natures’ phenomenons, which provides the perfect springboard for meaningful play-based project work.

Aligning with the National Quality Standard (NQS) Element 1.2.2 ‘Responsive teaching and scaffolding’, podcasts can support the co-construction of knowledge about our sometimes weird and always wonderful world. The interesting facts about insects, animals and their natural habitats offer opportunities for educators to link programming to Learning Outcome 2.1 ‘Children become socially responsible and show respect for the environment’ in the EYLF. Thought-provoking follow-up learning experiences can focus on environmentally responsible practices and conservation to foster an appreciation of the earth and animals that inhabit it for future generations.

ABC Kids Early Education has designed a new free online resource with inspiring ideas for ways educators can use Noisy by Nature audio content to engage children in further explorations through hands-on, play-based learning.

View the ABC Kids Noisy by Nature Early Education Resources

These nature-based podcasts can support programming and planning across program areas including:

  • Environmental awareness
  • Respect for diversity
  • Science
  • Mindfulness

How can podcasts provoke follow-up outdoor education?

After listening, follow-up learning experiences in outdoor spaces can open-up inquiry and investigations into beach, bush or neighbourhood environments. Real life experiences in nature provide opportunities for children to connect with the landscape and their community, as well as explore nature and scientific concepts. According to the EYLF, including the exploration of nature in early childhood outdoor education programs “fosters an appreciation of the natural environment, develops environmental awareness and provides a platform for ongoing environmental education” (EYLF Principle: Learning environments).

The Noisy by Nature Excursion Early Education Resources could become a useful planning tool for outdoor education experiences in your local community. These free resources suggest ways children can make connections in their learning while out and about – linking to the EYLF and NQS in the following programming areas:

  • ‘Before you go…’
  • ‘While you are there…’ and
  • ‘When you get back…’.

Children as digital audio content creators

Educators and teachers can further support children’s developing digital literacy skills by encouraging them to make their own recordings of different sounds in nature, using a handheld device. This learning experience can help young children become familiar with how the different functions of digital technologies work, through exploratory play in a digital context. These child-created podcasts can be shared with families to support collaborative partnerships.

Share the ways you have engaged with ABC Kids Listen podcasts at your early childhood setting! The ABC would love to see your photos and learning stories in the ABC Kids Early Education Reflective Journal. Email the team at earlyeducation@abc.net.au.

References

Introducing new foods to children in education and care services

This month we hear from the National Nutrition Network – Early Childhood Education and Care (‘the Network’). This group of academics, researchers and implementers promote best practice nutrition and healthy eating in the early years throughout Australia. The Network provides practical resources based on research that support children’s education and care services to promote healthy eating. ACECQA would like to thank Amy Wakem, Lara Hernandez, Shabnam Kashef and Caryn Maslen for their contribution to our learning community. 

What’s all the fuss about fussy eaters?

Fussy eating is a phase that many children go through. Up to 50% of all 0-3-year-old children refuse to eat new and different foods at least half the time [1]. For some children, fussy eating tendencies are short-lived, but for others, they can last for much longer.

In a supportive eating environment, children can tell when they are hungry, when they are full and they can self-regulate their eating behaviours. It is their caregiver’s role to provide nutritious food, decide how often food is offered (through routine meal and snack times), and provide a relaxed child-friendly mealtime environment. This should include using appropriately sized utensils for children, as well as sitting and eating with the children. A child’s role is to choose whether to eat what has been provided and how much. 

It can take up to 10 or more exposures to a new food before a child may feel comfortable with it [2]. Mouthing a food (moving it around in the mouth but not swallowing) may be misinterpreted as a rejection of that food, however, this can be part of the acceptance process. Infants and young children learn how to self-feed and explore food using all of their senses, including touch, smell and taste. This is an important part of the development process. 

To create a child-friendly mealtime, avoid pressuring children to eat everything on their plate, and try not to make a big deal if they refuse a certain food. Forcing or bribing a child to eat can make them forget their own hunger and fullness cues. Educators who recognise how a child is eating by nodding and smiling rather than providing lots of praise or commenting on what has or has not been eaten are encouraging a child to respond to their own cues. 

Remember, too, that persistence is key. Keep offering a variety of foods, include food-based experiences (for example, cooking activities, designing a vegetable patch and growing and picking vegetables), and seek support from others when you need it. 

Encouraging children to try new foods

There are many different ways that educators and service leaders can encourage children to try new foods. 

You can encourage children to become familiar with new foods by:

  • Creating a children’s garden space where they plant, grow and harvest different foods. It doesn’t have to be big, growing herbs is a good place to start!
  • Reading books about different foods helps introduce children to food from around the world and increase their language of food. 
  • Offering a variety of nutritious food to children regularly which considers the individual dietary, health or cultural needs of each child (National Regulations 78 and 79).
  • Providing regular cooking experiences where children can explore texture, colour and smell, for example, grating, cutting and peeling carrots or apples. 

Take a whole-of-service approach and involve everyone in your service community by:

  • Role modelling healthy eating, helping to create relaxed mealtime environments and encouraging children to try new foods.
  • Planning menus with children and the service cook/chef that provide opportunities for children to try a variety of foods in a variety of meals and ways. 
  • Providing a range of resources that support children’s changing interest in fruit, vegetables and different foods. 
  • Respecting different food preferences by involving families in the decision making process when planning healthy eating activities and changing seasonal menus (Standard 6.1, Element 6.1.2). Ask families to share recipes of their child’s favourite home or cultural foods and include these on the menu. 
  • Regularly communicate with families and your community about how foods are introduced to children and the healthy eating activities happening at the service. Services should be displaying the weekly menu for families to review, including what the child has been given to eat each day (National Regulation 80). You can also create a visual display or share information through your communication channels such as your newsletter or Facebook page. 
  • Incorporating discussions about food and healthy eating habits into the daily program to encourage each child to make their own food choices. (NQS Standard 2.1).

Consider these reflective questions at your next staff meeting

  • How could you incorporate activities that involve new foods into your everyday program?
  • How do your current practices encourage children to try new foods in a supportive and positive way at mealtimes?
  • What information can you share with families about fussy eating, trying new foods and how you plan healthy eating activities? 
  • How do you share information about children’s mealtimes with families? Does your service display the menu, and how is this information presented to ensure it is accessible and informative (National Regulation 80. Is the menu engaging and interactive?
  • How does your service plan for children’s food preferences and requirements, including cultural or specific dietary needs? (NQS Standard 2.1)

Fussy eating is a part of children’s development, and support for families, educators and teachers is available. Seek out more information and activity ideas to introduce new foods, starting with the resource list below.

Resources to support and continue your learning

  • For tools and resources with a vegetable focus go to VegKit, which provides tools and resources to support approved providers, cooks, teachers and educators as they seek to increase children’s vegetable intake.
  • For other helpful advice on understanding fussy eating in children and healthy eating in general go to Start Them Right, a guide for parents on how and what to feed children from birth to five years. The Growing Good Habits website has information on fussy eaters to share with your families too. 

[1] Better Health Channel, Toddlers and fussy eating, Department of Health & Human Services, State Government of Victoria. Accessed, https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/HealthyLiving/toddlers-and-fussy-eating

[2] Nekitsing C, Blundell-Birtill P, Cockroft JE, Hetherington MM. Systematic review and meta-analysis of strategies to increase vegetable consumption in preschool children aged 2–5 years. Appetite. 2018 Aug 1;127:138-54. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29702128/

For every child, every right

In this month’s blog, we look at the role of the National Children’s Commissioner and explore some of the projects and resources developed by the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) that are relevant to approved providers, coordinators, educators, teachers and staff members working in the children’s education and care sector. 

The Australian Human Rights Commission has welcomed the appointment of Ms Anne Hollonds as the new National Children’s Commissioner.

Ms Hollonds, who will commence her five-year appointment in November 2020, replaces inaugural National Children’s Commissioner Megan Mitchell, who has served in the role for the past seven years.

The National Children’s Commissioner 

The Commonwealth Government established the National Children’s Commissioner position in 2012 to help promote the rights, wellbeing and development of children and young people in Australia, and ensure their voices, including those of the most vulnerable, are heard at the national level.

The Commissioner promotes public discussion and awareness of issues affecting children, conducts research and education programs, and consults directly with children and representative organisations. The role also examines relevant existing and proposed Commonwealth legislation to determine if it recognises and protects children’s human rights in Australia.

The work of the Commissioner complements the work conducted by state and territory children’s commissioners and guardians. The position sits within the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), Australia’s national independent statutory body dealing with human rights.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) was ratified in Australia in December 1990. The UNCRC is the main international human rights treaty on children’s rights, and as a party Australia has a duty to ensure that all children in Australia enjoy the rights set out in the treaty.

The UNCRC outlines the rights of children in international law. It contains 54 articles that cover all aspects of a child’s life and set out the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights that all children everywhere are entitled to.

The articles within the UNCRC are embedded within the objectives and guiding principles of the National Quality Framework (NQF). The Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF) and the Framework for School Age Care (FSAC) also explicitly incorporate the UNCRC and children’s rights. Likewise, the Early Childhood Australia (ECA) Code of Ethics is based on the principles of the UNCRC.

Projects and resources for education and care services

The AHRC and the Commissioner have undertaken a number of major projects to draw attention to the human rights challenges facing children. Two projects, of particular relevance to the children’s education and care sector, are the:

  •  Child Safe Organisations project
  • Building Belonging toolkit of resources
Child Safe Organisations

As part of the Child Safe Organisations project, the Australian Government asked the Commissioner to lead the development of National Principles for Child Safe Organisations (the National Principles), released in February 2019.

Endorsed at the time by members of the Council of Australian Governments, the National Principles are based on the ten Child Safe Standards recommended by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse (Royal Commission) that all organisations that engage in child-related work are required to implement. They are however broader in scope, going beyond sexual abuse to cover other forms of potential harm. The Principles aim to provide a nationally consistent approach to creating organisational cultures that foster child safety and wellbeing across all sectors in Australia.

The National Office for Child Safety, established in response to the recommendations of the Royal Commission, works with the Commissioner, states and territories and the non-government sector to coordinate national adoption of the National Principles.

All organisations that work, or come into contact, with children are encouraged to implement the National Principles to become a child safe organisation. This includes, but is not limited to, sport and recreation clubs, education and care services, schools, child and youth support services, and out-of-home care services.

Practical tools and training resources are available to help organisations implement the National Principles.

At present, compliance with the National Principles is not mandatory. However, organisations – including education and care services, are encouraged to adopt them to demonstrate leadership and commitment to child safety and wellbeing.

Food for thought…

Ensuring the safety, health and wellbeing of children is an objective of the NQF, and always a priority. Children’s education and care services play an important role in creating and maintaining safe and nurturing spaces that reinforce each child’s right to experience quality education and care in an environment that provides for their ongoing health and safety.

How might you adopt the National Principles to support best practice and advocate for children’s fundamental right to be protected and kept safe?

*Note: While the National Principles are broadly aligned with existing child safe approaches reflected in the NQF, education and care services must continue to comply with the NQF and meet existing legislative requirements in their state or territory in addition to their choice to comply with the National Principles. Links to state and territory child safe requirements and resources are available on the ACECQA website.

Building Belonging

Recognising that children’s education and care environments provide the ideal setting for children to begin learning about their rights and responsibilities, and to develop respect for those around them, the AHRC worked closely with the sector to develop ‘Building Belonging’.

Building Belonging is a toolkit of resources which includes an eBook, song with actions, educator guide, posters and lesson plans. The resources aim to provide educators with simple and practical ideas on how to handle challenging or confronting questions about racial differences, while also offering children stimulating activities and games to engage them with ideas around cultural diversity.

The toolkit has been designed to cater to both education and care and early primary school settings, developed to support the achievement of learning outcomes under the EYLF and the Australian Curriculum. The resources closely align with the National Quality Standard (NQS) and are linked to the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers. Additionally, these resources support the fulfilment of children’s rights principles set out in the UNCRC.

The toolkit is a valuable resource that can be used to support Quality Improvement Plan (QIP) development and review. It can also assist educators in identifying current strengths and priorities for improvement when tackling the issues of cultural diversity and prejudice.

Food for thought…

Take a moment to consider if, or how, your service has accessed and used this resource in practice. Are there opportunities to incorporate, or extend on the use of this resource to support the development of cultural competence in your service?

Additional resources

The AHRC website promotes and provides a range of educational resources and materials aimed at building a universal culture and understanding of human rights. A recent news article, which may be of particular interest to education and care services, explores the potential effect the disruptions caused by COVID-19 may have on children and the important role educators, teachers, parents and carers play in supporting children’s mental and emotional wellbeing.

Throughout these unprecedented and uncertain times educators and service leaders have shown dedication, resilience and a commitment to continuing to deliver quality education and care to support children and their families. Every children’s education and care service makes ethical choices reflective of their values, and throughout the COVID-19 crisis it has been heartening to see the continued emphasis on the safety, health and wellbeing of children and their rights and best interests remaining paramount.

Thank you for your valued work for Australian children, families and communities during this challenging period.

Further resources

ACECQA – We Hear You – Building Belonging: A toolkit for early childhood educators on cultural diversity and responding to racial prejudice

ACECQA – Reporting requirements about children

Australian Government – The National Office for Child Safety

Australian Human Rights Commission – Child Safe Organisations

UNICEFThe Convention on the Rights of the Child: The child-friendly version

Effective partnerships contribute to positive outcomes for children

In the first post of a three part series, guest bloggers Kathryn Wetenhall and Rebecca Andrews from John Brotchie Nursery School shared a key strength of their quality practice: a positive attitude towards continuous improvement.

In this second instalment, educators and teachers from John Brotchie Nursery School discuss how effective partnerships with families, colleagues, organisations and community members contribute to positive outcomes for children at their service.

John Brotchie Nursery School was awarded the Excellent rating by ACECQA in May 2020.

Partnerships

Partnerships are an embedded aspect of our preschool culture at John Brotchie. We have developed partnerships with many different organisations, colleagues and community members to enhance educational programs for our children and our service as a whole. These reciprocal relationships provide an opportunity to learn from each other, share ideas and plan for continuous improvement.

Our partnerships begin with our preschool community. Positive relationships with families are established as soon as children are enrolled in our service. We gather information about our families, including their strengths, interests, culture and beliefs. Parents have the opportunity to participate in our program and even become mentors for our educators.

One of our longest running parent mentors has been Jane. Jane is a scientist and has supported the educators to become more confident with embedding science into our preschool curriculum. She has developed our team’s knowledge of scientific concepts and together we have developed experiences for children that Jane and educators implement together. Other parents have been integral in helping educators understand cultural diversity. Donna has supported our educators to understand Jewish traditions and celebrations that her family and community participate in. These are just two examples demonstrating the important role that parents and family play in supporting and mentoring our team.

We also draw on the depth and breadth of knowledge of colleagues within our local community. We have developed networks with local preschools, other education and care services and schools in our area. Networks and professional learning communities enable us to utilise the strengths and knowledge of other professionals. One of our local network groups is with four other NSW departmental preschools. We meet once a term to discuss, reflect and share information about program documentation, policy development and emerging early childhood topics of interest. Working together, we build on our knowledge and implementation of early childhood pedagogy.

Our partnerships extend to the broader community. We have broken down distance barriers by using technology to network with colleagues who are in rural and remote areas. One of our strongest and longest running network groups has been with our colleagues from the Dubbo School of Distance Education and Broken Hill School of the Air, both distance education preschools. We have worked together to further our understanding of Belonging, Being and Becoming: The Early Years Learning Framework for Australia (EYLF) to support the development of high-quality, play-based programs in these rural and remote regions of NSW.

We believe that this reciprocal partnership has improved learning outcomes for children here at John Brotchie Nursery School and for the children in some of New South Wales’ most remote communities.

We have gained a wealth of knowledge from our partnerships and network groups. Our educators have really valued the reciprocal relationships of network groups and have implemented some wonderful changes to our practices. You might be able to start a network group in your local area for educators and teachers. We encourage you to reach out, call a colleague and introduce yourself!

In the final instalment of our guest blog post series, Kathryn Wetenhall and Rebecca Andrews from John Brotchie Nursery School discuss the value of outdoor learning and describe the many opportunities for outdoor play for children at their service.

Related resources on partnerships

Uncovering the layers of reflective practice: Part 3

During June/July, We Hear You will be featuring a special three-part series exploring critical reflection – ‘Uncovering the layers of reflective practice’.

In the final instalment, we wrap up the series by considering the way self-reflection informs continuous improvement and the practical strategies for creating a service culture that supports it.

Part 3: Reflection to inform continuous improvement

Effective and authentic quality improvement is informed by critical reflection on practice, shaped by meaningful engagement with families and communities, and is embedded across the service. The National Quality Standard (NQS) identifies “ongoing self-review that results in informed judgment about performance is fundamental to an effective cycle of improvement” (Guide to the National Quality Standard, p. 178).

Essential to this self-review is the Quality Improvement Plan (QIP), which should be a living document, leading up to assessment and rating and beyond. The QIP provides an opportunity to share how a service engages in deep-level reflection as part of a quality assurance process that supports the realisation of its vision as well as the objectives of the National Quality Framework.

Creating a culture of continuous improvement involves developing and sharing reflective practice, gaining different perspectives, creating a respectful culture and seeking educators, families and children’s ideas. This culture is reflected in regular engagement with quality improvement to support accountability and to communicate what services are achieving and why.

Catherine Lee, the Director and Nominated Supervisor at The Point Preschool, shares her thoughts on critical reflection.

Standard 7.2 of the NQS requires services to make a commitment to continuous improvement. When we consider what this looks like in practice, it means creating regular touch points with the QIP, opportunities to regularly critically reflect on progress, and outcomes and opportunities for deeper collaboration. This level of reflective practice ensures the planning process informs decision making and provides accountability and direction, while being equitable and reflective of the diverse perspectives of all stakeholders. It also provides a springboard to celebrate achievements and communicate to all stakeholders the reasoning and purpose behind what is happening at the service.

A meaningful quality improvement planning process involves services reflecting on and assessing their performance against the NQS, as well as drawing on data or evidence gathering as a trigger for reflection. Examples might include:

  • Australian Early Development Census data to inform curriculum decision-making and resourcing priorities
  • maintenance registers – replacement of or upgrading resources
  • attendance trends and fluctuations to inform staffing
  • frequency and nature of incidents and accidents
  • workflow or staff scheduling challenges
  • regular surveys or questionnaires for families and staff about the service.

The NQS promotes an outcomes focused approach. As such, many of the elements and standards require education and care professionals to critically reflect on the decisions being made at a service level. This is an opportunity to consider questions of social justice, fairness and equity, cultural competence, acceptance and honouring diversity and inclusion, and to think through whether the ideals expressed in the service philosophy are being realised in day–to-day experiences.

A great question to prompt some deep reflective discussions at a service level is found in the approved learning frameworks (Early Years Learning Framework, p. 13; Framework for School Age Care, p. 11):

Who is advantaged when I work in this way? Who is disadvantaged?

Self-assessment and reflection are most worthwhile when they lead to action and it is important to record or reference progress towards the goal or even a change in focus of the original goal. Key pieces of evidence to identify decision making leading to action include:

  • linking the areas identified for improvement and the strategies to address them
  • demonstrated action reflecting the identified improvements
  • amendments to the philosophy of the service and the resultant change to policies and procedures
  • evident change in practice leading to improved outcomes for children
  • documented outcomes of the service’s self-assessment. Examples of this might include:

* meeting agenda noting the proposed discussion

* staff meeting minutes where practice is discussed

* minutes of a committee or parent meeting indicating topics      discussed and outcomes proposed

* collated survey results from children, parents or staff

* notes or drawings detailing children’s ideas, suggestions and feedback.

Education and care services should consider a holistic approach when planning for quality improvement, creating cohesion and direction by connecting all service plans together, including performance, inclusion and reconciliation, strategic and business plans. Opportunities arise here for adopting a more shared or distributed approach to leadership. For example, consider the role the educational leader plays in developing individual development plans that are in place to support performance reviews.

Questions for further reflection:

  • How is continuous improvement included in the induction process?
  • How and when is quality improvement discussed and documented?
  • How does the self-assessment process work and who contributes to the strengths of service practice?
  • How is the leadership and responsibility for QIP goals distributed?

Conclusion

We hope that we have challenged your thinking, broadened your practice and helped you to develop greater confidence in making professional judgements and articulating the reasons behind those decisions. It is important to recognise confidence emerges from drawing on professional standards, best practice, contemporary thinking and research.

Wherever you are at with your reflective practice journey, we challenge you to go deeper and consider the way critical reflection fits in with the professional learning community within your service context.

Further reading and resources

Early Childhood Australia – Critical reflection as a tool for change: Stories about quality improvement

Early Childhood Australia – Talking about practice: Self-assessment, reflective practice and quality improvement processes

Early Childhood Resource Hub – Talking about practice: Self-assessment, reflective practice and quality improvement processes

FUSE – Module 1 – An Introduction to the Victorian Framework and Reflective Practice

 

Read the complete series:

Uncovering the layers of reflective practice: Introduction

Part 1: Self-reflection – The key to growth

Part 2: Reflection on teaching and learning

Part 3: Reflection to inform continuous improvement

Uncovering the layers of reflective practice: Part 2

During  June/July, We Hear You will be featuring a special three-part series exploring critical reflection – ‘Uncovering the layers of reflective practice’.

In the second instalment, we consider teaching, learning and how we reflect within a holistic approach. 

Part 2: Reflection on teaching and learning

Critical reflection involves educators analysing their own practices – thinking about how their language, their level of involvement in play, their support of children to communicate and resolve conflict and how the organisation and environment impacts learning, relationships and interactions.

These insights should be used to inform the development of plans for children’s learning and development, both as individuals and groups of children. The focus should be on learning and outcomes rather than activities and resources.

Being a reflective practitioner means embracing multiple perspectives, your own unique approach and process as well as considering what might need to change. This process of reflecting on actions, intentionality, programs and children’s learning is one that educators engage in every day.

The approved learning frameworks provide some questions to reflect on: (Early Years Learning Framework, p. 13; Framework for School Age Care, p. 11):

  • What are my understandings of each child?
  • What theories, philosophies and understandings shape and assist my work?
  • Are there other theories or knowledge that could help me to understand better what I have experienced?

A holistic approach

It is important to reflect on the learning across all aspects of the program including routines, transitions, planned and spontaneous play and leisure experiences. Children’s learning is constant and happening everywhere and it is up to educators to reflect on how time, resources and access to learning environments is facilitating sustained shared thinking.

Who should be involved?

Everyone! Critically reflecting on children’s learning involves all educators talking, questioning, challenging and affirming each other. Two key questions to consider here might be:

  • Are planned experiences reflective of children’s knowledge, interests and identity?
  • Are experiences, environments and interactions supporting children’s learning and development across the learning outcomes?

Children and families are important participants in the reflection process, from setting goals to analysing and sharing the learning from the program and informing the direction of group and individual learning. Community expectations and context are relevant considerations to inform curriculum decision making.

How do we reflect and what should be recorded?

While there is no legislative requirement for educators’ reflections to be documented, it is a useful way for services to track and show how critical reflection influences their practice and contributes to continuous improvement and the cycle of planning.

The emphasis is on the process of critical reflection, not the product, so there is evidence the program is informed by these reflections. Children can be active participants in critical reflection, and in documenting their learning progress. Documenting this reflection can be completed in a variety of ways – in the program, in a reflective journal or diary, or in the minutes of team meetings.

Catherine Lee, the Director and Nominated Supervisor at The Point Preschool, shares her thoughts on critical reflection.

Supporting reflective practice

The educational leader plays a role in developing and supporting a culture of reflection by :

  • leading and being part of reflective discussions
  • mentoring other educators
  • discussing routines
  • observing children and educator interactions
  • talking to families
  • working with other education and care professionals
  • considering how the program can be linked to the community
  • establishing effective systems across the service.

Anne Stonehouse suggests the use of concise questions when reflecting on children’s learning and analysing information to focus on the process of their actions rather than the product:

  • What is this child learning?
  • What does this child know or understand?
  • What level is the learning? For example, emerging, beginning, practicing, consolidating, exploratory or mastery.
  • What learning dispositions are evident? For example, persistence, confidence, resourcefulness, curiosity or problem solving.

Assessment and rating

In terms of assessment and rating, a crucial factor in assessing quality practice relates to educators’ understandings of the process and the purpose of critical reflection as opposed to gathering evidence.

During an assessment, the authorised officer might:

  • observe educators having discussions with team members, children and families reflecting on how the program is supporting children’s learning in groups and as individuals
  • discuss how educators make decisions on the program and the process for considering the effectiveness of the program
  • sight documentation of decisions, how and why they came about, information in policies, parent information and staff induction that explains the process of how reflection guides the program.

Questions for further reflection:

The Educators’ Guide to My Time, Our Place describes the process of self-reflection as:

  • Deconstructing practice – What happens?
  • Confronting practice – What works well? What is challenging?
  • Theorising about why – What literature/research/experience helps you to understand this?
  • Thinking otherwise – What do you need to change? What is the first step?

These questions may prompt a robust discussion on what is working and how well practice aligns with philosophy and ethics, as well as creating a positive culture and professional learning community.

Further reading and resources

Cartmel, J. – ‘Techniques for Facilitating Reflection’, Reflections (43): 12-13.

Early Childhood Australia – Thinking about Practice: Working with the Early Years Learning Framework

FUSE – Module 1 – An Introduction to the Victorian Framework and Reflective Practice

Queensland Studies Authority – Reflecting on my teaching practices

Stonehouse, A. – ‘Assessing children’s learning—work in progress! (Part 1)’, NQS PLP eNewsletter (73).

 

Read the complete series:

Uncovering the layers of reflective practice: Introduction

Part 1: Self-reflection – The key to growth

Part 2: Reflection on teaching and learning

Part 3: Reflection to inform continuous improvement

Uncovering the layers of reflective practice: Part 1

During June/July, We Hear You will be featuring a special three-part series exploring critical reflection – ‘Uncovering the layers of reflective practice’.

In the first instalment, we explore meaningful self-reflection, what this looks like in practice and the importance of the process not the product.  

Part 1: Self-reflection – The key to growth

We know being reflective educators allows for greater self-awareness, drives continuous improvement, improved outcomes for children and families, as well as being a feature of high quality education and care. We also acknowledge a culture of learning, reflection and continuous improvement are driven by effective leaders. A culture of learning is fostered in an organisation that empowers educators, promotes openness and trust, and reflects a space where people feel heard and valued.

Catherine Lee, the Director and Nominated Supervisor at The Point Preschool, shares her thoughts on critical reflection.

Reflecting

We often hear educators ask ‘What am I supposed to be reflecting on?’ There are a range of professional standards educators can draw on to analyse their practice:

Considering the prompt questions from the approved learning frameworks can be useful tools to prompt more analytical thinking (Early Years Learning Framework, p. 13 / Framework for School Age Care, p. 11). A great starting point or points to revisit regularly include:

  • What questions do I have about my work?
  • What am I challenged by?
  • What am I curious about?
  • What am I confronted by?

One way of ensuring meaningful self-reflection could be to discuss issues educators have been considering during performance review processes, opening up professional conversations at team meetings, and facilitating educators to affirm and challenge each other as a ‘critical friend’. Research by the University of Melbourne identifies key factors for supporting educators to critically reflect, allowing for deep reflection of their practice:

  • guidance and structure to allow for critical reflection and change
  • effective mentoring for additional resources and perspectives
  • adequate time and space
  • professional development opportunities.

Documenting

Another common question is ‘what do I need to record or document?’ When it comes to reflective practice, the most important aspect is that it is about ‘process not product’. It is about being able to articulate why and how you made decisions and changes. Documenting key decisions may occur in a variety of ways – in the program, in a reflective journal or diary, or in minutes of team meetings.

Documenting in this way has the potential to promote in educators a sense of responsibility and accountability for their self-reflection and professional development. At this level, you may prefer to keep your reflections private.

Effective communication skills are crucial to creating a positive culture of learning. As part of the self-reflection process, you may identify further learning and professional development is needed. This could be added to your individual development plans. However, not all learning needs to be formal, such as attending a workshop. There may be opportunities to build on people’s strengths through mentoring, sharing professional journals or by accessing learning online.

Questions for further reflection:

  • What opportunities are available for educators to reflect on their practice?
  • What opportunities are created for educators to discuss and identify achievements, issues, challenges?
  • How does self-reflection inform individual development plans?

Read the complete series:

Uncovering the layers of reflective practice: Introduction

Part 1: Self-reflection – The key to growth

Part 2: Reflection on teaching and learning

Part 3: Reflection to inform continuous improvement

How will the approved learning frameworks guide your journey in 2017?

What is your personal and service journey with the approved learning frameworks? How do they inform your practice, programs and interactions? This month on We Hear You, we reflect on the frameworks that will guide you and your service through the coming year.

we-hear-you-blog-approved-frameworks

At this time of year, we are all thinking forward – planning for the coming months, developing programs and experiences for children and ways to collaborate with families and communities.

It is also an opportunity to take a moment to look back and reflect on your personal and service journey with the approved learning frameworks. When Belonging, Being and Becoming: The Early Years Learning Framework and My Time, Our Place: Framework for School Age Care were first launched in 2009 and 2011 respectively, the intent was to guide educator practice, critical reflection, decision making and scaffold understanding, much like the way the framework for a building provides the strength and integrity of the structure.

The Framework forms the foundation for ensuring that children in all early childhood settings experience quality teaching and learning… (and) has been designed for use by early childhood educators working in partnership with families, children’s first and most influential educators. (Early Years Learning Framework, p. 5)

The Framework… forms the foundation for ensuring that children in all school age care settings engage in quality experiences for rich learning, personal development and citizenship opportunities. (Framework for School Age Care, p. 3)

The frameworks are built on a foundation of contemporary research that identifies the benefits of high quality education in the early years, with play and leisure based programs most suited to the way young children learn. One of our responsibilities under professional standards such as Early Childhood Australia’s Code of Ethics is the need for education and care professionals to be advocates for young children within the broader community.

belongingandbecoming

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It may be timely to consider the ways your service is collaborating with families and communities to share the research and contemporary thinking outlined in the approved learning frameworks.

Both frameworks include many layers of rich and meaningful ideas, and while most educators and leaders are familiar with the five learning outcomes, the principles and practices that underpin these should continually shape our practice, programs, policies and interactions.

As you reflect individually and as a team, you might consider the daily influence of the frameworks’:

  • principles that promote respect, meaningful relationships and partnerships, equity, diversity and continuous learning
  • practices that support educators to implement quality programs and identify broad lifelong outcomes for children.

Taking the time to reflect on the way you are engaging with all aspects of the frameworks could also help you explore how they contribute to quality improvement.

Further reading and resources

ACECQA – Quality Area 1 – Educational program and practice

ACECQA – Occasional Paper 1 – Educational program and practice

Early Childhood Resource Hub – Introduction to Quality Area 1

Bush Kinder

Rhonda Livingstone, ACECQA’s National Education Leader, speaks with Tina Thompson, Koori Preschool Assistant at Berrimba Child Care Centre in Echuca, Victoria about their bush kinder program.

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Every Monday at Berrimba Child Care Centre, children aged three and above are taken into the bush for a three hour program of exploring and activities. These visits provide opportunities for children to connect to the land, live their culture and explore nature, as well as scientific and maths concepts.

Tina Thompson, Koori Preschool Assistant at the service, says the program fits well under the Belonging, Being and Becoming: The Early Years Learning Framework by linking with the five learning outcomes identified.

Tina spoke to me about the smoking and Welcome to Country (in language) ceremonies that educators and children collaboratively participate in to recognise the traditional owners and to cleanse their spirits. She talked about the valuable opportunities for children as they play and explore in the bush, giving time to leave behind any troubles they may be experiencing. Tina explained how “children need to know their culture, identity and be strong and proud, knowing and valuing their rich culture”.

Science is a feature of these excursions into the bush with lots of discussion about the natural creations. For example, children were fascinated with the drying mud; Tina laughingly reported that children, at first, thought it was chocolate. The children talked and theorised about where the water goes. “It is really important to get our culture back and being out in bush kinder is a great way to connect with the ancestors and to thank Mother Nature for all the beauty around us,” said Tina.

img_0293An example of an effective learning experience occurred when children at the service learned how to make a canoe under the guidance of Uncle Rick, an esteemed Aboriginal elder and strong male role model in the community. Educators take iPads to record the rich learnings, and share these with families and others in the community. “Children are learning about sustainability. Aboriginal people for generations have only taken what they needed; it is important for children to learn to respect and care for nature and follow in the footsteps of their ancestors,” she added.

Last year, the children made a humpy (a shelter) in this beautiful natural environment. The educators were available to help and guide but the initiative, ideas and problem solving came from the children. “They are amazing,” Tina noted, explaining how they cooperatively gathered the sticks and worked out how to build it so it would stay up. During each visit, they would add to the structure, help each other, and play in and use it in a variety of ways, allowing each other space to explore, work and play.

“We might turn over a log and study the bugs, but we don’t take them away,” she said. “We talk about our totems and why we don’t eat our totem. We don’t take the bugs, insects, stones, sticks or anything we find, just study them and marvel in the beauty of nature.”

“We have a lot of strong leaders in our community and children in our service are showing skills that will make them great community leaders of the future, leaders who can advocate and fight for the needs and rights of our people. The children are teaching their parents and family members.”

The identified benefits of the bush kinder include:

  • increasing evidence that children’s inner wellbeing is benefitted by being outdoors as the natural environment enhances their health, learning and behaviour by supporting personal and social development, as well as physical and mental health
  • the sense of calm and restoration gained from spending time in the bush
  • providing children with a connection while they are young, and the hope they will build a sense of belonging and respect for the country as they grow.

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Back at the service, educators can regularly be observed putting ochre (traditional Aboriginal body paint) on the young children and babies, and singing songs in language and dancing along. Tina pays respect to her colleagues Leona Cooper (jokingly called Boss Lady) and Joyce Ward, two women strong in their culture and relentless advocates for their families and community. These women work long and hard to ensure no child falls through the cracks and to advocate for these opportunities to continue to enrich the lives of children in the Echuca community.

To finish, Tina draws my attention to a quote from Jenny Beer (from the Aboriginal language group Wergaia):

“…if we don’t learn our language, then our kids, in future generations will be like us, looking for our identity, going through that identity crisis.”

Further reading and resources

Nyernila – Listen continuously: Aboriginal creation stories of Victoria

Forever Learning – A digital story from Berrimba Child Care Centre